California has tremendous offshore wind resources and ambitious offshore power goals, but the uncertain rules and regimes for development have delayed implementation of projects.
The California Energy Commission (CEC) workshop and plan help to delineate responsibility among federal and state energy and environmental agencies for specific permits and other approvals.
More work lies ahead in applying these allocations of responsibility and approvals to specific offshore wind generation and transmission projects.

On Friday, June 2, the California Energy Commission (CEC) hosted a workshop on permitting offshore wind energy facilities off the coast of California. The workshop came days after the CEC adopted a report entitled “Assembly Bill 525 Offshore Wind Energy Permitting Roadmap,” created in response to Assembly Bill 525, which established a goal for California to deploy up to 5,000 megawatts of offshore wind by 2030 and 25,000 megawatts by 2045. California aims to power 25 million homes with offshore wind by 2050. The report is the latest effort to bolster the development of California’s Offshore Wind Strategic Plan, which will be submitted to the legislature in 2023.

California’s offshore wind rollout comes as the Biden administration has announced its goal of transforming the United States into a global leader for offshore wind development. The administration has set a goal of 30 gigawatts of offshore wind before 2030, with 15 gigawatts of floating offshore wind before 2035 and 110 gigawatts by 2050. California has stated a goal of 100% clean energy by 2045.

The report and associated workshop laid out California’s plan to coordinate efforts between multiple state and federal permitting agencies, which permitting officials believe will speed up the permitting process and simultaneously ensure that the interests of animals, fishery groups, tribal governments, stakeholders and local governments are protected.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has been authorized by the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to manage development on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS), which extends from three to 200 nautical miles off the west coast of the United States (excluding National Marine Sanctuaries).

BOEM is the lead agency for federal permitting of offshore wind projects. Prior to permitting a project, BOEM requires a limited or commercial OCS lease and a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) determination. Additionally, BOEM works in coordination with several other federal agencies, each with their own requirements, including:

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which requires a mandatory consultation on each offshore wind project and incidental take authorization for endangered, threatened and otherwise protected species, where applicable;
  • Environmental Protection Agency, which implements and enforces the Clean Air Act requirements for OCS sources, including the evaluation of each project for its impact on National Ambient Air Quality Standards and for the application of Best Available Control Technology needs for areas subject to the Prevention of Significant Deterioration provisions of the Act. Projects located beyond the 25 nautical mile limit from the seaward boundary will be subject to federal requirements and are likely to need an OCS permit;
  • Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which performs safety and environmental oversight, compliance and enforcement under 30 CFR § 285;
  • National Marine Fisheries Service, which requires an “Essential Fish Habitat Mandatory Consultation and Assessment” and incidental take authorization and permitting under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act, where applicable;
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), which requires a nationwide or individual Clean Water Act Section 404 permit and ACOE Section 10 permits;
  • U.S. Coast Guard, which requires a private aids to navigation permit;
  • Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which requires an FAA no-hazard determination to air and navigation;
  • Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, which requires a Section 106 consultation pursuant to the National Historic Preservation Act; and
  • Department of Defense, which requires a Department of Defense Siting Clearinghouse review.

The lead agency for state permitting of offshore wind projects will be the California Coastal Commission (CCC), which will require a Certification of Consistency (CC), a Coastal Development Permit (CDP), and a Coastal Zone Management Act Federal Consistency Determination. CCC will be combining applications for both the CC and CDP and will bring them to a single hearing. Several other state agencies will also have requirements under the permitting process, including:

  • California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which requires an incidental take permit and California Endangered Species Act consultation, a scientific collecting permit, and a lake and streambed alteration agreement, where applicable;
  • State Lands Commission, which requires a state tidelands lease and a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review;
  • State Water Resources Control Board, which requires either a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity (CPCN) or a Permit to Construct (PTC). CPCNs are appropriate for facilities 200 kilovolts (kV) and above, while PTCs are appropriate for 50 kV to 200 kV facilities;
  • California Independent System Operator, which requires an interconnection agreement for new electricity generating facilities; and
  • Local Air Districts and California Air Resources Board, which requires an air permit under the Federal Clean Air Act, issued by local air quality management districts or air pollution control districts when within 25 nautical miles of the seashore. Projects located within 25 nautical miles of California’s seaward boundary will have to comply with permitting and air quality requirements for the nearest onshore locations, which at times will be delegated to the corresponding local or state air permit authority.

Local agencies also will establish requirements. In likely locations for offshore wind operations, they include the following:

  • San Luis Obispo County, City of Morro Bay and other cities in San Luis Obispo County, and Humboldt County and cities in Humboldt County will all require an encroachment or conditional use permit, lease or easement within their respective jurisdictions.
  • Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District will require a harbor permit or a tideland lease for the Humboldt Bay Harbor.

The proposed permitting approach will involve consolidating and coordinating among the agencies to ensure efficiency. CEC requires a single state application with CEC as the permitting authority. Additionally, CEC plans to combine NEPA and CEQA review to require one joint document and one program environmental impact report.

The permitting roadmap also highlighted the current timeline for wind authorization under both federal and state permitting timelines. The process timing will be as follows:

  • Year 0: Initial leases were auctioned and granted in December 2022.
  • Years 0 1: Pre-survey meetings and planning stage.
  • Years 15: Lessees will submit their site assessment plan, which will be reviewed and approved by BOEM. Site assessment and surveys will then be conducted. At the end of this period, the Construction and Operations Plan (COP) will be submitted with an optional project design envelope.
  • Years 5 7: BOEM will decide whether the COP is complete and sufficient, and NEPA/environmental and technical reviews will begin. These reviews will concurrently ensure Coastal Zone Management Act consistency.
  • Years 8 and on: BOEM will approve the COP, if it meets requirements. Design and installation reports will then be submitted. If approved, installation of the wind turbines may begin.

California boasts some of the best offshore wind resources in the United States, and the state has prioritized offshore wind as a critical energy source for achieving their goal of 100% clean energy. In addition to renewable energy, California expects offshore wind to open the door to significant job creation, primarily for local and regional supply chain, manufacturing, dock workers and watercraft operators.

Key challenges remain, including reduction of cost, increase in vessels capable of installing offshore wind turbines, and the long (and potentially delayable) permitting process. Legal and business teams for offshore wind generation and transmission development will navigate these challenges, and the CEC guidance, as they apply to specific projects.

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